Uber once again is in the spotlight after sexism charges were levelled against the high-tech transportation firm by a former employee.
The company, in a bid to head off more bad press, has appointed former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to a panel put together to investigate claims Uber ignored sexual harassment complaints from engineer Susan J. Fowler who worked at the firm for one year. The panel will also include Uber board member Arianna Huffington, who announced her involvement in a tweet.
Fowler, in a blog post, says the trouble began shortly after she came on board with Uber in November 2015. She claims she was sent sexually suggestive messages from her manager and, when she filed a complaint with HR, nothing was done to investigate the matter.
That was the beginning of a number of questionable incidents Fowler says she experienced before leaving Uber in December of 2016. Her blog post describes a male-oriented culture in which women were treated poorly.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick responded to Fowler’s blog post, saying what she describes in it is “abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in.”
“It’s the first time this has come to my attention so I have instructed Liane Hornsey our new Chief Human Resources Officer to conduct an urgent investigation into these allegations,” reads a statement sent to Recode. “We seek to make Uber a just workplace and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber — and anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired.”
Fowler, in her post, describes how, once her training was complete, the manager of the team she joined sent her sexually-charged messages.
“On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat,” her post reads. “He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.”
HR, she claims, brushed off the incident, saying it was the man’s first offense, and he would receive a “warning and a stern talking-to.” Upper management told her he “was a high performer” so “they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.”
She said she was then told she could either find another team to work on to avoid future interaction with the manager or she could stay on the team, but would “have to understand that he would most likely give me a poor performance review when review time came around, and there was nothing they could do about that.”
After opting to move to another team, Fowler says she discovered other female employees had lodged similar complaints against the same manager.
Fowler also details other issues in her post, such as having perfect performance reviews altered in order to keep her on a specific team. She says she was not the only female to be treated poorly, noting that when she joined Uber, the organization was more than 25 percent women.
“By the time I was trying to transfer to another eng organization, this number had dropped down to less than six percent,” she writes. “Women were transferring out of the organization, and those who couldn’t transfer were quitting or preparing to quit. There were two major reasons for this: there was the organizational chaos, and there was also the sexism within the organization. When I asked our director at an org all-hands about what was being done about the dwindling numbers of women in the org compared to the rest of the company, his reply was, in a nutshell, that the women of Uber just needed to step up and be better engineers.”
Fowlers allegations are the latest in a string of difficulties for Uber.
Most recently, Kalanick’s ties to Donald Trump left both him and his company in hot water after the president signed an order suspending immigration to the United Sates from Muslim countries. A #DeleteUber campaign was started and the company lost more than 200,000 customers. Kalanick was forced to resign from Trump’s economic committee to stem the flow.
Also last month, Uber settled a FTC complaint that it had misled drivers with its earning claims. Uber agreed to shell out $20 million to refund affected drivers. The FTC, in its complaint, said Uber exaggerated the yearly and hourly income drivers could make in certain cities, and misled prospective drivers about the financing options available through its Vehicle Solutions Program.